Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Midwest Gem: The Royal Theater in Danville, Indiana.

Love old cinemas? You'll find the Royal Theater on the square in downtown Danville, Indiana. Come take a look inside this restored movie house.

Downtown Danville, Indiana is a real gem. I came to the city to celebrate the 50th Year anniversary of the Society for Creative Anachronism, but on my very first day in town I realized there were so many stories to tell that I needed to stick around a while.

The city's town square features a lovely array of shops, restaurants and businesses in an easily-walkable layout, all around an old courthouse that sort of reminds me of
the one with the clock from Back to the Future. Amongst its businesses are the Mayberry Cafe, where Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and all the rest are fondly remembered in
photos and food. There's a sitcom worthy coffeeshop and a doughnut shop worthy of the old Mel's Diner.

But the star of this setting is the old Royal Theater.  Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday you can catch the latest feature within its historic walls.

The woman who's brought new life to this edifice is Tracie Shearer.  She was not only awesome enough to entertain my fellow SCA members with a showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail while our event was going on; she also put me up a couple nights at the Marmalade Sky Bed and Breakfast, her home.  Tracie gave me a tour of the theater while I was in town.

The original Royal Theater was opened in 1914 in another building nearby. This particular theater was first opened in 1927 in its current location. Like so many other single-show theaters of its era, it's experienced some real ups and downs.

The theater was closed when Tracie showed an interest in opening it in 2001. She did a tremendous amount of work to get it back up and going again. The screen had to be replaced and new speakers needed to be brought in. To take advantage of mobile speakers that could be
re-positioned for different events, Tracie worked with Rader's Fabrics down the street to get very lightweight, sound-permeable black fabric to create a border and bottom for the large movie screen.

The screen rolls up and the speakers roll away,
which make the large stage inside the Royal Theater perfect for other gatherings, such as comedy shows, parties and bridal showers. There are movable stairs that can be set up to get on and off the stage.

Tracie worked with Rader's to acquire the
blue fabric she used to recreate the curtains on the theater's walls. She also had to replace the original seats,because frankly we're bigger than people were in the 1920s. One small section of the original seat still exist in the back of the theater. They originally had wooden backs, but are now upholstered.

The original house lights were taken by a previous owner, so Tracie replaced them with some gorgeous Art Deco-esque versions she found at a sale.

The renovations to the Royal Theater included the installation of a brand new concession stand.  The original stand was a small desk within the vestibule from the exterior.  The new one sits back past the front entrance, and there's plenty of room for popcorn, candy and soft
drinks.  New restrooms were also added in the renovations.

To access the projection booth, employees climb this ladder from the kitchen. It can also be accessed from a stairwell outside.

Tracie told me that the upgraded digital projector at the Royal Theater was made possible by the people of Danville, Indiana. A combination of fundraising and loans was used to purchase the new device a few years back, which allows for new films to continue to be shown. Unlike many other
theaters though, the Royal Theater kept its original projector, so 35 millimeter films can still be shown here.

Before the digital projector was brought in, upgrades had been made to the older projector, including a new sound projector which you can see on top. The platters you see here originally came from a drive-in movie theater in Indianapolis. Today, they stand alongside the old projector.

Tracie tells me that the projection booth was constructed out of concrete, so that if the camera and or film caught fire, the projectionist could escape and the fire could be contained to the single room.

Above the theater and the projection booth, there are two apartments that can be rented out.

The Royal Theater isn't just a place to see first-run movies each week.  At least once a month, you can catch a retro movie on Thursday night. There are senior citizen nights and kid days and all sorts of special events.

If you'd like to check out the Royal Theater, you'll find it under a big marquee at 59 South Washington Street. Always look for showtimes on Facebook before you go - there are often additional screenings scheduled.  For more information, call (317) 745-1499 or check out the website.

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